The Last Letter from Japan

Dear Bob,

Happy one year Japanniversary to me! I was supposed to be home by now. And then I was supposed to stay another year. And now I’m sitting here in the airport, en route to Korea and back in a day for the purpose of extending my stay for 1 more month for….no purpose at all. It’s a long story. One I can’t tell because it doesn’t make sense yet.

It’s weird reading my first few letters when I was just settling in. The story was so easy to tell. It was mostly exposè. My shallow impressions of a whole new life. It wasn’t fulfilling yet – but it seemed to promise it would be, the deeper in time I waded.

These last few months have been harder to write about. Yes, it’s deeper, in that the situations you stay in build in complexity exponentially, but making sense of it – that is, turning it into a story you can tell yourself (“ah yes, this is what’s happening here”) and live with (“and I am doing the right thing”) – requires many more assumptive leaps (especially in a culture where people hide their true feelings and I will never belong). That is the art of storytelling, I suppose; committing to a situation long enough for it to become wholly unique, and then being able to craft it into something that others can understand, relate to, find fascinating. It’s too hard. I think that’s part of why I like to change my life every year.

This last third has also been unusually full of sudden change compared to the rest that I couldn’t trust myself to reflect in the midst of it. Not like you can reflect in the midst of things anyway. You have to give some time….but not too much. There must be some sweet spot for optimal reflection, past the disorientation of the moment but before the inaccuracy of reflecting on memories of memories.

So I wasn’t writing because I wasn’t reflecting, and I wasn’t reflecting because the raw material was unfolding too chaotically to make sense of it. I know, I know, I’m vague. This isn’t about Japan anymore. It almost never was.

How do you reflect? Do you do it in terms of right or wrong (did I make the wrong decision then, was I or were they in the right or in the wrong when we fought, did I do a bad thing that caused this…)? And if you do, do you always conveniently come out the good guy? Or do you reflect in terms of cause and effect, so you can understand why the outcome happened? If so, do you always understand? Are you OK with not understanding?

Anyway, onto more concrete items: one main change is I had moved to part-time teaching small groups or 1:1 to mostly adults, and all people who want to learn. It was such a different level of job satisfaction. I think I’ve realized that I just don’t have the patience for people who don’t want to learn, and I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted or needed by the people I am offering to. I think this probably rules out my option for becoming a teacher in the future (actually, the option is ruled out for me because I took almost no teachable subjects in my undergrad…go figure)

At the same time I moved into a new house further into the side part of the countryside, had to give up the car, and am biking everywhere. This has been an excellent change too. Gosh I am really not looking forward to moving back to the city. If it weren’t for the ones I love I…. don’t know where I’d be.

And why am I stuck in this very inconvenient and wasteful 13 month situation? There are reasons, but the story I stick to is it’s because of my hopeless ambivalence. If I knew I wanted to stay only 1 year because I have shit to get on with back home, I would be back home now fully immersed in the shit. If I was entrenched in all the good this life here has to offer, I would have easily chosen to stay. It was my choice, but I could have gone either way with any small reason. When you don’t have any direction either way you become at the whim of the emotions in the moment. Is that what “living in the moment” is? Well I hope it’s leading me somewhere good.

As if reading my innermost anxieties, you sent me this webcomic the other day that I can’t stop thinking about. 2012-01-04-Eat_Shit_And_Die_202.jpg

See, I’m pretty disappointed about how many things in my year here have gone (or rather, not gone) given that what I couldn’t control was so to my advantage in getting the things I thought I wanted. My lack of writing stories, learning Japanese, saving money, clarity, community integration being the main ones. But according to the comic, all these things that I wanted out of this experience were because I didn’t actually want them. When you want something, you put in the effort. What you actually do in life proves what you actually want.

So, the explanation is simple: I just don’t want it enough. The life I have is the life I want. That doesn’t seem right though.

The End



6 thoughts on “The Last Letter from Japan

  1. “When you want something, you put in the effort. What you actually do in life proves what you actually want.

    So, the explanation is simple: I just don’t want it enough. The life I have is the life I want. That doesn’t seem right though.”

    That is exactly the way it is! Whatever you go on to do, jess, I hope you continue to write letters to Bob for the Blog. You are always fun to read! Best of luck in finding your bliss . . .


  2. Not sure why, Jess, but your last letter from Japan reminded me of this bit from my book on the bible:

    “Keep Awake.” Be prepared. Endtime is approaching. Learn from the fig-tree – not only that you can tell what season it is by the growth of the tree, but also learn from that specific fig-tree, that one which one day in leaf, was the next day dead. One day it was alive; the next day it was dead. The moment of death for each one of us also is unknown. We know that we will die but we know not the hour or the day.

    The anger that Jesus exhibits by withering the fig tree and chasing the money lenders out of the temple unites him with Old Testament prophets. They too exhibited anger, whether it was Samuel chopping up Agag or Elisha killing forty-two boys for ridiculing his bald head. Jesus is cut of the same narrative material as Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, and Ezekiel. He performs miracles: he raises the dead, he casts out devils, he heals, and he feeds mul- titudes with very little food. Like Ezekiel he is called the Son of Man. As Mark’s narrative continues we see the climax of the cluster of images that have to do with the fig tree. Anger first exhibited when a fig tree did not have fruit on it for the hungry man-god to eat, will now be shown one more time in the scene at the place called Gethsemane. There Jesus asks Peter, James, and John to wait for him while he, overcome with “horror and dismay,” goes on a way up the path to pray. “Stop here, and stay awake” [emphasis God’s], he orders his disciples. Jesus goes on ahead and “threw himself on the ground” and asks for the hour to pass him by. He comes back to find his disciples asleep. In anger and disappointment he shouts, “Were you not able to stay awake for one hour?” And then orders, “Stay awake, all of you.”

    Yet a second time he goes off to pray and when he returns they are asleep again. When asked why they could not stay awake, “they did not know how to answer him.”

    The third time we sense a dramatic shift in tone. Upon his return Jesus says quietly, “Still sleeping? Still taking your ease? Enough. The hour has come.” (Mark 14.41)

    Anger and frustration shown in the fig tree story, the temple story, and in the Gethsemane story are finally washed away by the prayer and by the act of accepting his own death. “The hour has come.” There is a quiet resolution in that sentence. Acceptance has replaced anger and now Jesus can complete his destiny. Until one has accepted one’s own mortality, accepted death in a personal and lucid sense, one cannot live. Thus Jesus teaches us: there is life in death. “Death”, as the poet Wallace Stevens reminds us, “is the mother of beauty.”


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